When it comes to MBA admissions, undergraduate GPA and admissions test scores like the GRE or GMAT are some of the only hard, quantifiable metrics that an admissions committee can use to gauge the strength of your candidacy. They’re certainly not the only elements of your MBA application that matter, but they are pretty significant when it comes to your chances of getting admitted.
Unfortunately, once you’ve decided to go to business school, you can’t go back and change a weak undergraduate GPA. But that doesn’t mean that you need to give up on your dreams of going to a top-ranked business school—it just means you’ll have to work a little harder, and get a little bit more creative.
Ace your admissions test
Step one in overcoming a weak undergraduate GPA is showing that it isn’t indicative of your capabilities. Give the adcom solid evidence that you’d be a strong candidate by knocking your GMAT or GRE out of the park.
This is a situation where you need to really commit significant time to test prep. I would also strongly encourage you to invest in one-on-one tutoring or a test prep class. Poor grades during your undergrad years can raise a red flag for admissions committees that you’re not a serious scholar; now is the time to prove your diligence.
Take additional classes
Much like acing your admissions test, the purpose of taking additional college-level courses is to give the admissions committee more information about your current abilities. This is especially true if it’s been a while since you were in college—the goal is to show that you’ve grown since the first time you went to college.
Advanced math and statistics courses are particularly good bets for additional classes when you want to beef up your application package. They help to show the adcom that you are prepared for the rigors of an MBA program.
Showcase a stellar work history
Getting into business school with a weak undergrad GPA is generally best done—and probably only possible—once you have established a solid work history. I would not recommend applying fresh out of college; the rest of your application just won’t be strong enough to make you a contender for a spot in a top MBA program.
Instead, you should focus on putting in the effort to show that you know how to do well in the workforce. Develop your resume to tell a compelling story: demonstrating commitment to leadership, career progression, going above and beyond at work, seeking out influential volunteer opportunities, etc.
Write the optional essay
Once you’ve done everything you can to mitigate the effect of a weak undergrad GPA on your MBA application, the time has come to explain it. This is exactly the situation the optional essay was created for. They are typically short, around 200 words, so you’ll need to spend some time crafting your message to fit the guidelines.
My recommendation is to be as straightforward as possible. Don’t try to ignore the issue, or make excuses for it, or try to underplay it. Simply acknowledge that your undergrad GPA was not as high as it should have been, explain why it happened, and mention what has changed in your life that it would not be an issue going forward.
A growth-focused mindset
The worst thing you can do when it comes to dealing with a poor undergraduate GPA is to try to pretend it didn’t happen. Admissions committees don’t expect applicants to be perfect. They do expect them to acknowledge their faults, and work to improve them going forward.
The key to making all of these strategies work is by focusing on growth. Everyone has challenges; it’s what you do with them that matters. If you can show an admissions committee that you’ve worked hard to overcome your past shortcomings, you can absolutely still get in to your target business school.